Tour 9 St James’s Palace
This ninth tour of free London sights from Victoria station starts from Hyde Park Corner accessed by bus or on foot up Buckingham Palace Road, Grosvenor Gardens and Grosvenor Place skirting the Palace walls on your right. We start near the horseback statue of the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) whose defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 makes him one Britain's greatest military heroes. The tour continues through Wellington Arch to the Bomber Command Memorial. From there we cross Green Park to St James’s Palace returning across the Park via the Canada memorial and Commonwealth memorial gates to Hyde Park Corner and Victoria.
Wellington ArchUIKE Wellington Arch on the traffic island lies opposite the Duke of Wellington’s former abode at Apsley House known as No 1 London because the Arch and a previous turnpike gate were seen as the entrance to central London from the west. Both Wellington and Marble Arch were planned in 1825 by King George IV to commemorate Britain's victories in the Napoleonic Wars. A controversial 40 ton bronze equestrian statue of the victor Duke made from captured French cannons stood on Wellington Arch Initially. This was moved to Army HQ at Aldershot. The four-horse chariot stands in its place with a smaller statue of the Duke on a plinth near the Arch.
Bomber Command Memorial
Take the pedestrian crossing to Green Park and turn left to view the controversial bronze memorial to Royal Air Force's Bomber Command unveiled by the Queen in 2012. 6,000 veterans and family members of those killed attended and saw red poppy petals descend from a Lancaster bomber over Green Park. The delay in honouring the men who did as they were told flattening German cities is linked to embarrassment among the World War II allies about the great number of German civilian fatalities. This traces back to Winston Churchill’s omitting to mention Bomber Command in his victory speech. The memorial marks the sacrifice of 55,573 allied aircrew.
From Bomber Command Memorial head across Green Park towards St James’s Palace noting the beautiful gas lamps en route. 1500 gas lamps remain in London. They no longer get lit manually but their automatic timer needs attention every fortnight to keep pace with shorter or longer days. Green Park is a bridge between St James’s Park and Hyde Park so helping form an almost unbroken stretch of green from Victoria Station to Knightsbridge. Formerly a burial ground for lepers, then a haunt for thieves and highwaymen Green Park was a venue for duels. On 10 June 1840 it was the sight of the assassination attempt on Queen Victoria by Edward Oxford.
St James Palace
Exit Green Park down the alley to walk along the facade of St James's Palace with its ceremonial guard. This is the most ancient palace and official base of the head of state, or Royal Court, despite the monarch now residing elsewhere. Commissioned by Henry VIII on the former site of St James the Less leper hospital this Tudor palace is where his daughter Queen Mary died. Her sister Queen Elizabeth I spent the night here while waiting for the Spanish Armada to sail up the Channel. King Charles I spent his last night on earth here before walking to his execution in Whitehall. Today the Palace is the London residence of Princesses Anne, Beatrice, Eugenie and Alexandra.
Continue past St James’s Palace frontage into Pall Mall and turn right heading for The Mall. On your left stands the Queen’s Chapel regularly opened to the public. Built as a Roman Catholic chapel at a time when the construction of Catholic churches was prohibited in England, it was used by Charles I's RC queen Henrietta Maria. Later it was used by Continental Protestant courtiers. This Chapel should not be confused with the Chapel Royal in St James’s Palace which has no public access. The body of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (d 2002) who lived nearby at Clarence House lay at the Queen's Chapel for several days before her public funeral.
From Queen’s Chapel continue to The Mall and turn right .Canada’s links with the UK and its monarchy lie behind the grand entrance to Green Park opposite Buckingham Palace, Canada Gate installed in memory of Queen Victoria and the red granite Canada Memorial a short distance from it heading into Green Park. It’s got a narrow walkway dividing the Memorial into distinct halves representing Britain and Canada’s joint involvement in World Wars I and II. Unveiled 1994 by the Queen the inclined sculpture has water flowing over inset bronze maple leaves, Canada’s national symbol, here used to represent floating leaves indicative of those fallen in conflict. The walkway points towards Halifax, Nova Scotia, from where Canadian service personnel sailed for Europe.
Commonwealth Memorial Gates
From the Canada Memorial head back along the Constitution Hill footpath alongside the road towards Hyde Park and view the Commonwealth Memorial Gates at the end of Green Park. These were dedicated by the Queen in 2002 to honour the five million from Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent who served with the Armed Forces during the First and Second World Wars. The Memorial has four stone piers topped by bronze urns set alight on solemn occasions. Carved on the monument are the names India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Africa, Caribbean and Nepal with Ben Okri’s hopeful epigraph: ‘Our future is greater than our past’.